The New Hampshire Legislature played ostrich recently on the problem of fatherlessness in the Granite State. Read about it here (Seacoastline.com, 4/15/12). At issue was a bill whose only purpose was to study the causes of fatherlessness and identify what the legislature could do about it. But the state’s elected officials didn’t want to know the answer to the question, so they stuck their heads in the sand, defeating the bill.
Of course, if you were to ask one of those legislators why he/she voted “no” on the bill, the answer would probably come back, “we already know the cause of fatherlessness – irresponsible fathers.” So why study the matter?
Detractors successfully argued that while they feel bad for children disconnected from caring dads, all that’s necessary to fix the problem is for men to “man up” to their responsibilities. The Senate majority, moreover, yielded to claims that such a commission would be “no panacea” because bad men will be bad nonetheless. The debate took less than a minute.It’s truly amazing that people who are supposed to care about social problems, particularly one as important as father absence, are so completely ignorant about it. After all, Sanford Braver published “Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths” 14 years ago. That’s more than enough time for people to figure out that “man up” isn’t the solution to the problem of absent fathers. Since then there’ve been countless books, studies and yes, blogs, written on the subject. By now it’s clear to anyone who wants to look past the shallowest of false stereotypes and toward the truth, that fatherlessness is about a lot of things, and bad dads are the least of them.
Are there fathers who don’t care about their children? Probably so. But here’s a hint: if those guys exist now, they probably always will. Don’t worry about them and fix what can be fixed.
There’s a lot that can be fixed, starting with a little matter that the New Hampshire Legislature can fix all by itself – family law. Instead of shouting “man up” to dads who aren’t there to listen, sweep away the many obstacles family law places between fathers and their children. Pass laws requiring the presumption of equal parenting post-divorce. Require judges to enforce visitation orders. If a parent wants a domestic violence restraining order, make her prove her case instead of just taking her word for it. Pass reasonable child support laws that reflect the realities of fathers’ ability to pay and do away with or dramatically reduce interest and fees on arrearages. Establish summary procedures for modifying support orders. Change existing laws that allow the children of fit, caring fathers to be adopted by strangers without notice to the dads. Require DNA testing of all children at birth.
See? There’s lots an enterprising legislature can do to confront the causes of fatherlessness, if members happen to want to. But they don’t, at least in New Hampshire. One minute of “debate” and what could have been a modest first step toward sanity was tossed aside like trash.
But don’t take my word for it. Read the linked-to article. It’s by Michael Geanoulis, Sr. who knows about fatherlessness first-hand.
For myself, a narrow survivor of every disadvantage associated with father absence, including poverty, delinquency, educational failure, etc., and for the many caring dads who spend considerable sums and/or travel long distances to maintain fragile relationships — often unsuccessfully — the Senate seemed vindictive, unfair and misguided. Did they intend to reject potentially good dads in order to slay the bad? Throw the baby out with dirty bathwater?There’s more to Geanoulis’ mother moving 1,200 miles away, making his father’s contact with him all but impossible. What Geanoulis doesn’t mention is that, at the time, there was a family court that could have stopped her, but didn’t. That’s the type of thing those legislators crying “man up” could have “manned up” and put a stop to, but preferred to ignore.
While I have occasionally met the dad bad enough to inspire universal rejection of the kind displayed in the Senate, the majority I meet deserve better. One such father rendered himself homeless in order to keep up with his child support payments, so tuned in was he to the wellness of his son. And more than 80 percent of young putative fathers demonstrate high levels of love and caring by appearing at the birth of their children in maternity wards.
“Manning up” can be considerably difficult these days. Too many otherwise good dads cave in to insurmountable obstacles that ought to be properly identified and repaired. My mom moved 1,200 miles away from my dad when I was 7 years old. That hurt both me and my dad, a prince of a man prematurely buried in ground I worship every year and who never even raised his voice on me. He was a wonderful guy who made me feel good when he was near and dear to me, but he was unable to cope with the separation. Neither could I for embarrassing textbook reasons already alluded to. Such stories are legion.
So I strongly suspect there are many disenfranchised dads and worshipping offspring improperly deprived of each other and suffer the same. Hundreds of research items compiled in “Father Facts” from Fatherhood.org and Michael Lamb’s “The Role of the Father in Child Development” reinforce this theme — research that most senators didn’t have time to explore.
Nationally, fully one-third of all children will go to bed in a home absent their biological dad. A tragic fact that sociologist David Blankenhorn refers to as America’s No. 1 social problem. HB 1710 was not intended to be a “panacea.” Just a necessary step in the right direction complete with official attention of the kind that fertilized the fatherless problem to begin with.
Then there’s the cost of it all — another important tidbit given our financial problems these days. Nationally, as conservatively reported in the “Annual Costs of Father Absence,” taxpayers are subsidizing expensive father substitute government programs to the tune of $100 billion. New Hampshire’s share has yet to be determined but is estimated to be at least $400 million or $500 million. Such a public expense, by itself, should get the undivided attention of lawmakers everywhere.
If it means anything, the term “man up” means to take responsibility for one’s actions. That makes the inaction of the New Hampshire Legislature not only irresponsible, but ironic too. Cowering in the face of easy-to-understand solutions to the problem of fatherlessness, while crying “man up” is not just morally wrong, it’s, well, unmanly.